Many of us have special friends who we have shared training runs and memorable races with. So, this month we hear from some of our top age group runners on how their running friendships were founded and how those special running buddies have played an important part in the running careers.

Miranda Boonstra (NED) - F45-49

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"After studying Human Movement Sciences and finishing my PhD in 2010, I became a professional marathon runner. Before that I was a steeple chaser and am still the Dutch record holder (9.38.40).

"I represented my country in World and European Championships. I was close to making the Olympics but the qualification criteria in the Netherlands was really tough and I got a long-lasting achilles injury in 2015 which took three years to recover from. I am now just happy to be healthy and running some decent mileage again.

"My special running friend is Alex van der Meer who is aged 42, lives in Canberra, Australia and who can run a marathon in 2.22.14!

"I met Alex during the St Olafsloppet, a 4-day relay from Sweden to Norway. He was a member of our team. Alex is from Spain, with a Dutch dad, and at that time he was studying in the Netherlands. He became one of my best friends. In 2010 he told me to switch from the steeple chase to the marathon: 'If you want to know your potential in the marathon you have to switch now, before you're too old.' 

"So, I made my debut in Amsterdam 2010 and I loved it. In 2011, he and my boyfriend Noel were my pacemakers in the BMW Berlin Marathon, where I wanted to qualify for the London Olympics. I ran a huge PB, but not fast enough yet. So, we tried again in Rotterdam 2012, Alex and Noel as my pacemakers. Again, I ran a huge PB, but just 8 seconds short of the qualification time. I'll never forget that Alex was crying with me. He felt my disappointment as a true friend. He now lives in Australia, where he married an Aussie girl, so we can't run together too often anymore but the friendship is still there.

This is what I would say to Alex on national friendship day: "Dear Alex, thank you for having pushed me to the marathon. It is good to have such a good friend and pacemaker around, even now that you live on the other side of the world. Hope to see you soon. Abrazo."

David Criniti (AUS) - M40-44

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“I am a lifetime runner, ever since I made the school cross-country team in Year Five. Inspired by an ultra-marathon running teacher at school, I came to marathons from a different route to most, completing a few ultras in my early 20s before 'stepping down' in distance to the marathon. It's been a gradual progression, moving from my 2:34 in 2003's Sydney Marathon to my first sub 2:30 at Canberra 2007, first sub 2:25 at Gold-Coast 2009, and eventually my first sub 2:20 at Berlin, 2017.

“My special friend in my world of running is Simon Winizer, aged 33 from Sydney, Australia. Simon found a passion for running six or seven years ago, and quickly became addicted. A regular at a popular monthly 10k series hosted by the Sydney Striders, Simon soon shaved minutes off his initial times and became a sub-40 1ok runner before setting his sights on longer events.

"Beginning with a 3:20 in 2014, he continued to set his sights higher, clocking a 2:48:09 in 2016 on the Gold Coast, before cracking 2:45 a few months later at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

“Simon's an incredibly positive person with a wealth of knowledge and ideas which keep me informed and entertained on our runs. He's got an encyclopedic knowledge of the latest offerings from all the major players in the shoe market, as well as the low down on all the training and tactics of local runners and legends of the sport.

“We have both done our share or pacing duties for each other, including Simon hopping on the bike for some long sessions which were key in my preparations for my first sub 2:20 in 2017. Almost two hours of cajoling, encouraging, berating and begging me to keep with the pace is no mean feat, and resulted in me toeing the start line in that race with a lot more confidence than I would have had otherwise.

My words of thanks to Simon for all these fun times would be: "Mate, thanks for all the kilometres we've logged together and your friendship, support and advice along the way. You've given me confidence at crucial points and somehow survived my tough-love approach to advising you with your training. Keep pushing, princess!”

Jill Ireland (USA) - F54-59

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“I joined the jogging class in ninth grade and ran my first mile without walking while most of the class walked around the one-mile lake and smoked cigarettes!   

“Both my mom and dad had been influenced by the jogging/running trend started in the 70s. I ran my first 10k as a senior in high school with my mom. My mom and I used to run three miles,  three days a week before I went to school. On the weekend I would meet my dad and run with him and his friends. I ran my first marathon in my early 20s and the goal was to finish. I knew nothing about what was considered a good time. I ran a 3:48. Over the next 15 years I ran one or two marathons a year.

“In 1998 I went to work for Reebok in Boston. Over the next three years I trained and dropped my marathon times from 3:18 to my PR of 3:07. I moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 and joined the local running club. After a 10-year break from marathon running I chose New York as my comeback marathon in 2017 and that was when I met my good friend Stacy Bailey.  

“Stacey is 43 years old with a marathon PR of 3:00.49. She is Ms. Consistency and would never miss any of the group runs. She is passionate about her running, her friendships and the community.  We connected because we both strived to run better and we connected because of our common faith. When we met Stacey was coming back from a very serious heart condition that almost took her life. We trained for, qualified for, and ran Boston together in 2018. I was so happy to be there for her and her journey back to marathon running after all she had been through.

“I realize that friendships made through running are different. We understand the crazy miles, the crazy early morning wake-up calls, we spend hours together that bring us closer with conversations during warmup and cool downs.  We support each other through the down times, through injuries, we show up for each other in our training, we encourage each other, we challenge and push each other and we celebrate each other.”

To Stacey I would say: “Thank you, Stacey, for inspiring me to stay committed, consistent and pushing to new levels. I am so proud of your comeback and I expect to see many more marathons from you."

Yuko Gordon (JPN) - F64-69

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“I am originally from Japan. I moved to Hong Kong in 1974 to work as a stewardess aged 23. It was there that my running career started accidentally – they were short of female runner for the annual Inter Hong Race so I said yes. I knew it meant I got an extra weekend off! After six weeks of fun training (one or two morning jogs each week), our team won and I won individually too. My photo with a trophy in my arms was in a newspaper the next morning. This was the start of my running career aged 27.

“I have never been a full time or scholarship athlete. During my peak of running career, I worked full time as an airline stewardess travelling around the world. Only prior to the LA Olympics in 1984, I applied for three months unpaid leave to train full-time, while most of Olympians of other nations were probably preparing for the last four years! I belonged to a running club but it was more for social running and there was no coaching or training set-up then. Road running was not treated as a mainstream event yet in Hong Kong - nobody knew how to coach road runners.

“I lived in Hong Kong for 24 years and represented Hong Kong at the Asian Games, Asian Championships and many other international events including the inaugural women’s marathon in the Los Angeles Olympics, but my rapid rise to the peak of my running career was all done in a short spell of four years with repeat cycles of trials and errors in training and racing. My marathon PB of 2:38:32 came out of the blue, long after my running career settled back into a more recreational stage, living in the UK and having had time out to enjoy my family and a different way of life. 

“Through my peak career it was my friend and competitor Winnie Ng who pushed me through. For years she was much faster than me, giving me someone to chase and she was most likely the first woman in Asia (outside of Japan) to break the three-hour barrier back in the early 80s. People saw us as rivals and would comment on my ability to take over Winnie’s dominance but we were friends who kept each other going.

“After we both competed at the Olympics (Winnie ran a great race and finished five minutes ahead of me in 2:42), she semi-retired from running and went to motherhood. She has migrated to USA now and lives in Chicago with her family. Our running careers were very different but in the end we became very similar and achieved some great things.

Winnie, I say to you: "If it was not for you, I would never have  discovered running was such an exciting and precious thing in my life. Running alongside your long graceful strides was the most beautiful feeling I ever experienced in running.  It was a bliss. Thank you, Winnie."